Even with a lot of personalities in one family, Santa Rosa delivers something fun for everyone, with a variety of things to do from safaris to museums to wine country.
Family vacations have always been important to us. Every moment might not be amazing, but it’s where we make memories that will last us a lifetime. When planning our annual trip this year, I decided to choose a location that was only a short flight away and had something for the whole family. My husband Greg wanted something relaxing; Carter, likes to learn new things; and Megan, requested something cool she could tell her friends about; me? Wine, please!
A quick flight from Portland on Alaska Airlines, and we arrived in Santa Rosa, the perfect hub for exploring Sonoma County with our family. We loved the ability to fly direct and Charlie Brown even welcomed us at the airport. OK, it was a statue, but the kids are big fans and really loved it!
TIP: Rent a car! There are certainly tours available, but if you want to truly get the full experience of this region, definitely utilize one of the car rental agencies— all the big ones are there.
Visiting The Peanuts Gang
We chose a hotel close to downtown Santa Rosa, but there are options for every budget. You can even sleep on Sonoma County’s version of the Serengeti, but I will get to that later.
Known as the home of the creator of the Peanuts comic, we definitely had to make a stop at the Charles M. Schulz Museum. The kids, and the kids at heart, enjoyed laughing at the original comic strips, learning about the art of cartooning, and seeing a recreation of the art studio where Schulz created the memorable characters. We even got to draw our own cartoons in the hands-on education room. Throughout our visit, we stayed on the lookout for Peanuts statues scattered throughout the city that celebrate the iconic characters. Rumor has it there are 70 (!) statues, we didn’t find them all, but discovering them throughout our trip was like our own scavenger hunt. And looking for our favorite characters was truly a highlight.
TIP: Check the calendar of the Schulz Museum before you go. They have a number of ongoing events that kids (and parents) will enjoy. They even have kids nights for grades 1–6, so mom and dad can have a nice dinner alone.
As we made our way back to the hotel, we happened upon the California Welcome Center in Historic Railroad Square. The visitor’s center was a great place to learn more about what there is to see and do in the area. We got a couple of great local tips, including a route to take to see the coast, and captured another statue of Charlie Brown and Snoopy for our growing list. I recommend stopping here the first day of your trip to get the scoop about local events happening while you are in town, ideas about what you may want to explore, and restaurant recommendations.
From the Sonoma Serengeti to the California Redwoods
I always try to surprise the kids with one activity they weren’t expecting—a safari! They both have a passion for animals and learning, so a visit to Safari West was a lovely surprise. And it checked off Megan’s need for something cool. We boarded a safari jeep and set off on our journey to explore the Sonoma Serengeti alongside herds of exotic wildlife. Rhinos, flamingos, giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, and monkeys—oh my! As the open-air jeep bumped through the wildlife park, we heard exotic noises and kept our eyes peeled for rustling in the bushes, as the animals roam free here. Whenever an animal was in sight, our guide would stop the jeep and the kids would listen and observe closely. Every direction seemed to catch our gaze—there’s a leaping lemur! Look a cheetah prowling in the grass! The kids were in awe of getting up close and personal with the giraffes, it was like a real African Safari even though we were in Northern California, and we loved the educational component.
TIP: If you are feeling adventurous, you can even spend the night in a luxury tent on the grounds among the animals!
Next, we were off to teach the kids how to fly with an exciting zip line through the Redwoods! After I convinced Greg that zip lining is indeed relaxing, we strapped in for two and a half hours of exploring the famous California Coastal Redwoods with Sonoma Canopy Tours, while stepping out of our comfort zone. With two unique courses, various bridges and rappels, there is something for most ages and abilities. This being Carter’s first zip line he was a bit scared, and me, but zipping over the 300-foot ravine definitely counted as a new experience for us both, after a few false starts we felt exhilarated rushing through the Redwoods and even Greg loved it! You must be 10 years old and 70 lbs. to participate. Also, wear layers as it can get chilly. Yeah, I think everyone will sleep well tonight!
Wine-ing down in Sonoma County
On our last day, we drove north to Francis Ford Coppola Winery, where I had made reservations for a pool and cabine package. You read that right: a kid friendly winery with a pool! The package accommodates 4 people (adults and children 3 years of age and older) with chaise lounge chairs and a private shower and dressing area. We even got 4 cans of the delicious Sophia sparkling wine included. They have all the pool accouterments that the kids could want, and we even enjoyed a game of bocce ball! There is also a bunch of movie memorabilia inside the winery. It was a great way to end our time in wine country.
TIP: Making reservations in advance for the pool is a must, especially on the weekends. There are often cancellations, but weekdays are a great option if you are visiting then.
Before we even step on the plane to go home, Greg and I are already planning an adults-only trip, so we can further explore the Sonoma Coast, all the wonderful wineries, and the amazing craft brew scene that Santa Rosa is known for.
Pack the family and explore Santa Rosa for an exciting family vacation.